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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

112                 The Loom of Language
At one time the adjective (including the "articles" a and the) was a
highly inflected word. It had flexions dictated by the noun with which
it kept company The only trace of this agreement or concord in English
is the distinction between this and these or that and those We say that
this "agrees" with goose because goose is singular, and these "agrees"
with men because the latter word is a plural noun. In the time of Alfred
the Great, all English words classed as adjectives had number flexion
dictated by the noun m this way They also had flexions of case and
gender Gender-concord is the diagnostic characteristic which labels the
adjective and pronoun when a clear-cut distinction between adjectives
and other words is recognizable Grammarians give the name gender to
three different characteristics of word behaviour. In English, two of
them are relatively trivial, and offer no difficulty to anyone who wants
to learn the language. The third has disappeared completely.
The first is connected with the fact that male and female animals or
occupations may have different names derived from the same stem, as
illustrated by hon~hones$9 tiger ~tigr ess ^ actor~actress> or poet-poetess
Although the English word distress has the same ending as adulteress,*
grammarians do not call it a feminine noun. So far as English is con-
cerned, the distinction implied by calling poet or lion MASCULINE and
lioness or actress FEMININE nouns, is not specifically grammatical It is
purely anatomical.
Corresponding to it we have a second distinction connected with the
use of the third person singular pronoun. When we use the latter to
replace an English noun, we have to take sex into account. We say he
instead of heir or nephew,, and she instead of heiress or niece When we
speak of animals we are not so particular Even if we know the sex, as
when we talk of bulls or cows, we are not bound to choose between the
masculine he and the feminine she More often we use the neuter form
it, which always replaces a plant, a part of the body, a dead object, a
collection, or an abstraction. To speak Anglo-American correctly, all
we need to know about "gender" in this sense is:
(a) That the masculine and feminine pronouns are used m accordance
with sex differences when referring to human beings*
(fc) That the so-called neuter form can replace any other singular
So defined, gender is still a biological distinction, and as such offers
no difficulty to anyone who wants to learn our language. What gram~